The latter stages of the UEFA Champions League are often filled with drama, as some of the best teams in the continent stage classics upon epic comebacks in a bid to lift the holy grail of European football.
There was little edge-of-your-seat action, unfortunately, in the quarterfinal second legs as all the favourites went on to win the tie in their return fixtures this season.
Arguably the biggest fixture of the last eight lived up to its billing as Manchester City beat Bayern Munich 4-1 on aggregate, completing a tie that had it all including spectacular goals, defensive clangers, fist-fighting teammates, devastating missed chances, red cards and controversially-awarded penalties.
City held a healthy 3-0 advantage from the first leg but they had to weather the early storm in an emotionally charged atmosphere in Munich. Notably, they willingly surrendered possession and rode out the home side’s passion as they were dogged and tough to break down.
Although the Bavarians were mostly in control and created several scoring opportunities, the final ball was painfully lacking while the visitors tried to hurt them on the break.
There was a sense of mission accomplished for Pep Guardiola’s men when Kevin de Bruyne calmly played in Erling Haaland on the counter who benefitted from Dayot Upamecano’s slip and fired an emphatic finish for his 48th goal of a remarkable individual campaign.
It means City have now reached the Champions League semifinal for the third year in a row, where they will face Real Madrid.
Third time’s the charm?
The Etihad Stadium side are the most technically accomplished setup anywhere in Europe and the Bayern games showed they are too good and too strong to break.
Save for the setback of a suspected hamstring injury to defender Nathan Ake, there were positives all through for City who were rigid defensively while the manic goalscoring of Haaland gives them a fantastic chance to execute big matches this season.
There is indeed no better team in Europe right now than Guardiola’s and the 2021 runner-ups must overcome current holders Real Madrid on the road to securing a maiden Champions League title. However, the Cityzens were knocked out by the Spanish champions at the same stage last year after suffering one of European football’s greatest comebacks.
Hence, Los Blancos are the competition’s standard-bearers and beating the 14-time winners will offer the psychological boost needed to win this year’s UCL.
For their part, City will be strengthened for the tests that lie ahead as they bear realistic opportunities to win the treble this season, not for the first time under Guardiola. They have scored 28 times in their last seven games and are yet to concede more than once in a game since January 19.
The Mancunians will continue their decisive week when they play Sheffield United in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday before the all-important Premier League clash with leaders Arsenal.
Despite currently sitting four points behind the Gunners with a game in hand, City are supremely confident and packed with title-winning experience. The defence is as solid as can be given Guardiola’s tinkering with four central defenders and John Stones performing an inverted full-back role.
In Haaland, they crucially have the weapon to unlock the biggest of season-defining matches.
Can Real Madrid withstand the goal-hungry Norwegian? Failing to do so may lead to a sensational treble for the men in sky blue.